Our Lord Jesus Christ declared to the crowds of people who were following Him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In essence, what our Lord is asking His followers to do is to go against their very nature in order to walk a path that is marked by suffering. This is not comfortable, easy, or natural, but it is the way of discipleship because it was the way Christ Himself walked. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well-known for his reflections on this subject in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He reveals that we can know suffering as a “word of grace” that comes to us in the midst of discipleship. How? It is through denying self and “looking only unto him.” Bonhoeffer explains:
To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life...If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship; if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.” (88-89)
Much of the American church is unfamiliar with this kind of talk, for “taking up our cross” has been a task of minimal expectation for most Christians. The church (and our nation) is in desperate need of true disciples of Jesus who will passionately pursue Him knowing that they run headlong into the face of rejection, shame, and suffering. The cross cannot be separated from discipleship if we are to truly experience the presence of Christ in our lives. And in His presence cross-bearing becomes joy unspeakable. Bonhoeffer adds, “Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace.”
When the Church discovers the joy of Christ in “taking up our cross,” then and only then will we see revival take place. I confess this to be a hard lesson to learn and a difficult path to walk. Will you pray with me that God would grant us the grace necessary for each of us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ?